Catholic News Service photo
The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, the Manila cathedral, is shown as it reopened April 9 following a two-year renovation. Built in 1571 by Spanish conquistadors, the cathedral is located in Manila's historic walled city known as the Intramuros.
Catholic News Service photo
The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, the Manila cathedral, is shown as it reopened April 9 following a two-year renovation. Built in 1571 by Spanish conquistadors, the cathedral is located in Manila's historic walled city known as the Intramuros.
MANLIA, Philippines — After being shuttered for two years for a $1 million-plus makeover, the Manila Archdiocese's cathedral reopened its doors to the public with a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Luis Tagle.

"We are celebrating the reconstruction, the retrofitting of Manila cathedral, which is not just a building," the cardinal said in his homily during ceremonies April 9. "But (it's) a living symbol of a community of faith that has journeyed through centuries."

Several bishops joined Cardinal Tagle in concelebrating the liturgy at the black-and-white Italian marble altar with brass ornamental angels in cathedral, called the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.

The congregation included Philippine President Benigno Aquino, and former president and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada.

Cardinal Tagle thanked the many backers of the renovation.

"Generosity with resources, expertise, dedication, they all need to be fueled, fueled by faith, love of God, love of the church, devotion to Our Lady. And I saw that," he said.

Without these four things, the cardinal said, the remodeling would not have been possible.

Built in 1571 by Spanish conquistadors, the cathedral is located in Manila's historic walled city known as the Intramuros. It was bounded by government buildings on either side and sat in front of a town square. The structure has been rebuilt eight times after succumbing to fires, earthquakes, damaging typhoons and the ravages of World War II.

Father Albert Flores, Manila Archdiocesan archivist, said the latest facelift included major retrofitting.

"They had to remove the marble first and they did a carbon wrapping. Then they had to put back the marble stuff," Father Flores explained to Catholic News Service. "It's a new technology to strengthen the structure."

Cathedral trustee Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, well known for her promotion of the arts in the Philippines, told CNS the idea for the restoration originated with Cardinal Tagle's predecessor, Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales.

"We'd had so many earthquakes, then Cardinal Rosales got worried about the tower," Guidote-Alvarez said. "It was sort of leaning."

She said a study later found the cathedral's foundation had multiple cracks and that church officials feared a strong earthquake would destroy the church just as a 7.1 magnitude temblor in the central Philippines in October rocked cities and sent bell towers of centuries-old churches tumbling.

"If we have the disaster-prevention mindset to strengthen it, at least you're safer," Guidote-Alvarez explained.

Engineers also designed precautions against flooding, a regular occurrence in the typhoon-prone nation. According to an informational video shown before the Mass, the drainage system was completely replaced.

Apart from the restorations engineered for safety, the two-year project also focused on enhancements to lighting and restoration of the church's  architecture.

Guidote-Alvarez said some work remains to be completed but that Cardinal Tagle wanted the church reopened in time for Holy Week liturgies and services.

The project started off with a $1.1 million price tag, but it was going up, according to Guidote-Alvarez.

"It was frightening at first when it was discovered that it was going to be more and more expensive, but the people volunteered. It's incredible. Even the smallest to the top corporations came in to show their heart, their confirmation of their faith," she said.